Skagit Audubon
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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

April Conservation Report

by Tim Manns

Apr24WhooperSwanAt this writing in mid-March two Whooper Swans first noticed weeks ago in fields along Chuckanut Drive west of Burlington are still visiting Skagit County. Thanks to Jeff Osmundson’s good directions, I joined many other birders adding this species to the avian wonders we have seen so close to home. Whoopers nested on Attu Island in the Aleutians in 1996, but most of these near Trumpeter-sized swans inhabit northern Asia and Europe and only rarely visit North America. Of the world’s six swans in the genus Cygnus, there in my narrow scope view were three: a Whooper posed in front of a Tundra and, to the side, a juvenile and adult Trumpeter. It was a dramatic reminder of the avian diversity we can experience in the Skagit. When this Skagit Flyer issue reaches you, the swans will probably have left for their respective breeding grounds: Trumpeters to inland Alaskan or Canadian lakes, Tundras further north to, yes, tundra ponds along the Arctic coast of Alaska and Canada, and the Whoopers back to northern Asia or Europe where they came from, venturing all the way to Skagit’s pastures and potato fields. We know that the presence of swans, ducks, and geese can impose financial burdens on Skagit’s farmers, and we appreciate those who tolerate the waterfowl spectacle the Skagit hosts each winter. Skagit’s present capacity to support huge numbers of ducks and geese and more Trumpeter Swans than any other county in the Lower-48 depends on the bays, marshes, and remaining inland habitat and also on agriculture.

National Audubon’s Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink (Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink | Audubon) is a powerful reminder that climate change has drastic implications for many birds as their ranges shift and, often, shrink. Will swans find the Skagit a good place to winter in the future? Will these far-northern breeders find their necessary conditions for reproduction so changed that nesting failure becomes common? Look at Audubon Washington’s and National Audubon’s legislative priorities and note the pervasive focus on bills and funding to address climate change. These human-caused changes are the foremost threat to birds just as they profoundly threaten people and all life as we know it.

Last month’s Skagit Audubon conservation notes reported on the progress of Audubon Washington’s 2024 state legislative priorities. When the legislative session ended March 7th only the bill to electrify school buses had passed both chambers (HB 1368), but this limited success is not unusual in an alternate year short (60-day) session. Some bills that did not pass out of committee will be reintroduced next year and could well move ahead. Read the blogpost by Audubon Washington’s Senior Policy Manager Adam Maxwell on the legislative session (Reflecting on Audubon Washington's 2024 Legislative Efforts | Audubon Washington) and follow this link to his summary of key conservation bills in the state legislature (Bill Tracker: 2024 Legislative Session | Audubon Washington). Most importantly, click on the Protect the Climate Commitment Act link. As Adam mentions, it is essential that Initiative 2117 (Initiative 2117.pdf (wa.gov)) not repeal the Climate Commitment Act of  2021 (CCA) this November. The CCA, which created a cap-and-trade carbon tax system, is the most significant element of Washington State’s effort to slow and reverse human-caused climate change and all it portends for both birds and us.

For information on conservation issues Skagit Audubon is following, please go to the conservation notes on the chapter website at Skagit Audubon Society - Conservation Notes

Photo credit:  Whooper Swan, Digital Nature Scotland/Shutterstock

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Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center (Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.

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